Gun control support surges, poll finds

LOS ANGELES — Public support for stricter gun laws has leaped to its highest point in eight years with 58 percent now in favor, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll released Thursday. That’s a 14-point jump from last year.

Of those surveyed, 92 percent of Americans want background checks for buyers at gun shows and 62 percent want to ban magazines that carry more than 10 rounds, which have played a frequent role in mass shootings.

But Americans still oppose a full ban on semi-automatic assault rifles 51 percent to 44 percent, and opposition to a full handgun ban is higher than it has ever been, at 74 percent.

The poll was conducted with 1,038 respondents by phone over Dec. 19-22, with a 4 percent margin of error.

Overall, some experts say mass shootings aren’t happening more often than usual, though 2012 has been a particularly bloody year for such attacks — some of which have involved illegally obtained assault rifles.

Such killings have long played a role in shaping the nation’s gun policy.

In a 1989 attack reminiscent of the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, a drifter named Patrick Purdy opened fire on a schoolyard full of children in Stockton, Calif., with an AK-47, killing five students and wounding 29 more. Outrage resulted in an assault-weapons ban in California that prefigured the 10-year nationwide ban that arrived in 1994. A 1990 Gallup poll showed 78 percent public support for tighter gun rules.

Some experts say that high-profile massacres in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Oak Creek, Wis., and Tucson, Ariz., have left a similarly indelible impression on the public mindset, with the recent Sandy Hook shooting exerting the most pull. That contention is supported by the sudden weakening of support among respondents who want gun laws to stay the same, according to the USA Today/Gallup poll.

For the first time in more than a decade, more poll respondents favor enacting new laws to control guns rather than just enforcing existing laws more rigorously.

“Americans favor new legislation to limit gun sales, presumably to help prevent the kind of gun violence that became all too familiar in 2012,” Gallup said in an analysis of the results. “This is seen in increased support for making the laws covering the sale of firearms more strict, and for passing new gun laws.

“However, views toward banning semi-automatic guns or assault rifles are unchanged, and — possibly reflecting Americans’ desire to defend themselves given the rash of high-profile gun violence — a record-high 74 percent oppose preventing anyone but the police or other authorized officials from owning a handgun.”

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